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Push May Shove Molitor Too Hard

Posted by Ted Schwerzler , 17 April 2017 · 1,914 views

Before the 2017 season began, I wrote that Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor may be managing for his career in 2017. The crux of the thought process is that he's unproven, age isn't on his side, and a new job isn't incredibly likely to present itself. Now into the early part of the season, it's beginning to appear that the Twins record may not be the determining factor in his employment status a year from now.

While not electrifying by any means, the Twins have gotten out to a nice start. After losing their first 9 games to kick off the 2016 season, a 7-5 record through 12 this year is something Twins Territory will accept. The club has notched two series victories, and really should have had a third (and second against the Chicago White Sox in as many tries). It's that second series against the White Sox though that presents the case against Molitor for new front office mates, Derek Falvey and Thad Lavine.

On Sunday April 16, the Twins held a 1-0 lead thanks to an unlikely inside-the-park home run from Brian Dozier. Hector Santiago was pitching quite a gem, coming on the heels of an Ervin Santana one hit, complete game shutout.

The hometown nine gave up the lead on some rather unfortunate fundamentals from normally sound centerfielder Byron Buxton. Despite leading the big leagues in defensive runs saved through the early going, and having a cannon for an arm, Buxton failed to get in proper position on a Matt Davidson fly ball, allowing Jose Abreu to score from third. There's plenty of room to suggest even a properly played ball would have allowed Abreu to score, but the reality is that Buxton didn't get behind the ball, fielded it to the wrong side, and uncorked a less than desirable throw. It hopped a few times, and came in late.

Davidson's sac fly for the White Sox came in the 8th inning, and it's there that we find the first curious move from Molitor. To start the inning, Molitor replaced Robbie Grossman in right field with Danny Santana. Although Grossman is no asset himself, Santana as a defensive replacement is laughable at best. A year ago, he was worth -9 DRS in the outfield, and he's among the worst defensive players on any 25 man roster. Given the reality that Minnesota was currently going with a three man bench, the move makes no sense, and would eventually come back to haunt them (more on that in a bit).

While not nearly the gaffe that Santana's entry was, Molitor turned the ball over to Matt Belisle in the 8th. It's been relatively apparent in the early going that Ryan Pressly has the best stuff of any Twins reliever. He has strikeout ability, and his velocity is a task for big league hitters. With Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia due up 2nd and 3rd in the inning, the leverage was calling for the club's best pitcher. Belisle struck out Tyler Saladino, hit Jose Abreu, allowed a base hit to Garcia, and then watched the White Sox first basemen to come around and score on Davidson's sac fly. Pressly may not have held the South Siders down, but I'd have given him the chance.

In the bottom half of the inning, Molitor's decision defensively immediately came back to bite him. Removing Grossman, a high on base guy and a batter with a strong early slash line, Danny Santana hit behind Joe Mauer who had reached on a single. Santana promptly went down swinging and Mauer never advanced beyond first base.

Neither team could push a run across in the 9th, and Molito's earlier decisions were set up to again bite him in extras. During the top of the 10th inning, Leury Garcia hit a looping ball to right field. Not deep in the gap, Santana took a very inefficient route, and turned the base hit from a single to a double. Ryan Pressly was now tasked with a runner in scoring position and no outs, as oppsed to simply having a runner on first.

Whether Pressly or Molitor, the Twins decided to pitch to slugger Jose Abreu with Garcia on third and one out. They struck him out, but then decided to double down on their fortune and throw to Avisail Garcia, who was already 3-4 on the day. Despite Garcia not being an otherwordly hitter, Matt Davidson and Cody Asche followed him in the order, and are arguably easier outs. Garcia made the Twins and Pressly pay, as he ripped a 98 mph pitch over the fence in right field.

In a vacuum, I can understand how nitpicking a single game over a slate of 162 doesn't hold much water. The reality is that marginal teams need to win the ones they have to their advantage, and steal some down the stretch too. What happened against the White Sox was a perfect example of Paul Molitor managing his way out of competitiveness.

Over the course of his tenure with the Twins, he's shown a real ineptitude at times with the bullpen, a lack of understanding in how to best utilize his offensive assets, and an inability to develop his youth. Whether the Twins win or lose 90 games this season, I'd have to imagine the front office is more concerned about how capable Molitor truly is at handling big league scenarios. As the missteps add up, he's building a case against himself. There's validity to Paul Molitor the baseball player being an elite baseball mind. There isn't much to that comment when speaking of the manager though.

For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz

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How about Buxton not running after the lead off walk in the seventh?  Molitor or Buxton to blame?

 

Hindsight and 20/20, yadda yadda yadda..., but it seemed like a huge opportunity lost at  the time.

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LA VIkes Fan
Apr 17 2017 04:17 PM

I'm not a big fan of Molitor as a manager overall, particularly for a young team that requires patience to develop. Having said that, I do think he is hampered by having a short bench and it sounds like that was not his idea  The FO wanted to go with the larger pitching staff and it looks like that was more to protect Tonkin from having to go through the DFA process  than anything else because Molitor doesn't pitch him outside of mop up situations  and Haley outpitched him in the spring.  I think he needs a chance to have either Park or Vargas up to help with the IB/DH role and someone, basically anyone, to play the Santana utility role. Maybe Adrianza and Park will come up in the next week to 10 days and we come to Santana. Then I think we can properly evaluate Molitor.

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Ted Schwerzler
Apr 17 2017 04:41 PM

I'm not a big fan of Molitor as a manager overall, particularly for a young team that requires patience to develop. Having said that, I do think he is hampered by having a short bench and it sounds like that was not his idea  The FO wanted to go with the larger pitching staff and it looks like that was more to protect Tonkin from having to go through the DFA process  than anything else because Molitor doesn't pitch him outside of mop up situations  and Haley outpitched him in the spring.  I think he needs a chance to have either Park or Vargas up to help with the IB/DH role and someone, basically anyone, to play the Santana utility role. Maybe Adrianza and Park will come up in the next week to 10 days and we come to Santana. Then I think we can properly evaluate Molitor.


The one issue here is that it's Molitor that continues to make a case for Santana. He didn't need to be included, and not just out of this spring. I like Adrianza, but I'm not sure he and Escobar are different enough to coexist.

Realistically, you bring up a healthy Park as a bat, and then have a true OF swap in for the 13th pitcher
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I am not a Molitor fan, and your article touches on one game, but could be considered seasonal also. The worst part of the RG switch was we were behind, not the defense. Santana ain't no gem, but Robbie is also a butcher. Molitor has not improved an iota since he started. He has no feel for managing, he seems to make moves, to make moves. He burns out BP pitchers who are hot. His lineups and discipline are inconsistent. I would imagine no one except a couple veterans has a clue of their standing on the roster. I don't know about the last 4 games but I do know he used 8 different lineups in the first 8 games! C'mon. MLB does not have a participation rule. That said, I bet Falvine is not looking forward to the day they have to go see Pauls buddy Jim and break the news!
    • Oldgoat_MN likes this

I couldn't agree more.  Granted, this is only one game, but with such a marginal team we need all hands on deck to squeeze victories out of situations like this- and the manager once again has gacked up his chess pieces in willy-nilly fashion, and disregarded baseball 101 decision making.  

 

Again, only one game, but a script so typical of so many others.  I am wracking my brain right now to come up with Molly moves that actually helped WIN a game we might not have otherwise, but I can quote you chapter and verse a myriad of situations where his mind-boggling decisions directly or indirectly resulted in a loss that most likely shouldn't have been.

 

He is without a doubt the single worst in-game manager I can recall the Twins having-- and I suffered through the droughts of the 70s and early 80s along the way.  I mean, we're talking Ray Miller-caliber here.

 

Granted, he's screwed in a sense with the 13 pitcher debacle-- but my Gawd, if you have 13 of 'em, how about using more than the same one or two?  He's got Pressley pitching multiple innings, which cost us one game, then got him NOT walking the hottest hitter in the entire major leagues, which cost us again.  Yeh, historically, Avi Garcia is no Joe DiMaggio-  but go ahead an pitch to him in the middle of July, when he's settled into his usual motif, not when he's in a total groove, and seeing and hitting the daylights out of any ball that comes his way.  

 

And the DanSan thing- don't even get me started.

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